By Dr. Mercola
In a two-year study of young adults, what do you think impacted levels of physical activity more… marriage or having kids? If you guessed kids, you’re absolutely right.
The study found that having a child significantly decreased physical activity levels in the parents,1 for reasons I probably don’t need to list.
Suffice to say, when you have kids your priorities change such that your morning workout session turns into getting your children fed and out the door to school… or you use it to catch up on an extra hour of much-needed sleep, after staying up through the night with a newborn.
The scientific literature is full of similar examples of studies showing just how much of a hit parents’ exercise levels take once children are in the picture:
- After having a first or subsequent child, 20 percent of the young women in one study changed from being active to inactive2
- Parents with dependent children are more inactive than non-parents, with mothers generally less active than fathers3
- In both men and women, having a child significantly reduced leisure-time physical activity levels4
You Can Stay Active with Kids: 8 Key Tips
If you’re a parent, you already know how difficult it can be to make exercise a priority again… now you need to know how it can be done -- and, yes, you can stay active and physically fit even if you have children. Here’s how…
1. Stay Active All Day
For those days when you can’t fit in a structured exercise session, stay active anyway. Stand instead of sit while you fold laundry, put your kids in a stroller and take a walk around your neighborhood, walk from the far end of the parking lot when running errands, and generally move around as much as you can.
This type of non-exercise activity is actually emerging as a key player in optimal health, and may be just as important, if not more important than structured exercise. A simple goal is to stand up once every 10 minutes while you’re sitting.
2. Shorten Your Workouts
It’s a myth that you have to exercise for an hour, or even half an hour, daily to stay fit. If you exercise intensely, and correctly, you can achieve high levels of fitness with 20-minute workouts, or less. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one such example. You can also break up your longer workouts into smaller 15-minute sessions twice a day.
3. Make Exercise a Priority
When you do have down time, resist the urge to watch TV, surf the Web or go shopping. Instead, use the time for exercise. Realize that anytime you spend your ‘me’ time doing something that gives you only instant gratification (like stopping for a latte), you’re substituting your long-term goal of physical fitness and health for a fleeting quick fix.
4. Cultivate Social Support
The more opportunities you have to carve a few minutes out for yourself, the easier it will be to fit in an exercise session. Extended family nearby works well if you need someone to watch your child for an hour or two, but if that’s not an option, cultivate friendships with other parents and trade off watching each other’s kids once or twice a week.
5. Establish Family Fitness
Walking with your baby in the stroller, or exercising at home while your baby naps, are options for infants and toddlers. When you have preschool aged or older kids, make fitness a family affair by riding bikes, going for hikes, swimming, ice skating and engaging in other vigorous activities as a family. Here are 10 more ideas to stay active as a family.
6. Set Goals
Establish small realistic goals to help keep your motivation going. For instance, set a goal to lose one or two pounds a week, or shed one pants size a month. As you reach each milestone, set another goal and give yourself a reward for staying on track.
7. Put in the Effort
It takes work to stay physically fit, so realize that you will have to work hard to achieve the benefits. But once you do, you will gain increased energy that makes running a household and taking care of kids easier and more enjoyable. The more you exercise, the better you’re likely to feel, physically and emotionally, which makes the hard work well worth it.
8. Be a Role Model
Your kids are watching your every move, and what better example could you set than to teach your kids the importance of staying physically fit? Every time you fit in a workout, go for a hike or walk the dog with your kids, you’re teaching them a lesson about fitness that will hopefully stay with them for a lifetime.
Remember How Good Exercise Is for You
It’s easy to put exercise on the backburner… until you remind yourself just how much you stand to gain from it. Having kids is actually among the greatest motivations to exercise that there is, as, after all, you’ve now got more reason than ever to lead a long, healthy life.
Toward that end, one of the primary benefits of exercise is that it normalizes your insulin and leptin levels, with the secondary benefits of weight loss and normalization of blood sugars. These basic factors in turn cascade outward, creating a ripple effect of positive health benefits, which include:
Improving your brainpower and boosting your IQ Lowering your risk of heart disease and cancer Building strong bones Lowering your blood pressure Curing insomnia Losing weight Relieving pain Balancing your mood and fighting depression Increasing your energy levels Acquiring fewer colds Lowering your risk of diabetes and reversing pre-diabetes Slowing down your aging process
Did You Know That Adults Need Playtime Too?
Unstructured playtime is essential for kids to build their imagination, relieve stress and simply be kids. But when’s the last time you took time for play? Regular playtime for adults, which could include time for exercise, hobbies, laughing and just general goofing around, is actually quite beneficial and even necessary for optimal well-being. Making time for play offers:5
- Stress relief: Taking a break from your worries feels good, and if you laugh while you do it you’ll also relax your muscles, optimize your blood flow and even boost your immune system.
- Better physical health: Back pain, fatigue, sleep troubles and indigestion often disappear when you make more time for play.
- Increased self-esteem and productivity: When you take time for fun, it makes you feel good about yourself and about your life in general. Playing during your free time also boosts creativity and enhances your problem-solving skills, which, in turn, may make you perform better at work.
- Social support: Fun outings with friends and family help you to strengthen relationships and enhance the social support in your life.
Fortunately, there’s an easy and proven effective remedy for play deprivation: go out and play! If you’ve forgotten how, you can help wake up your inner “Peter Pan” by:
Dancing Telling jokes or funny stories Playing games you enjoy (chess, checkers, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, cards, Monopoly) Spending time playing with kids Playing sports Taking part in social activities in your community or at work Playing with your pet Taking up a new hobby (knitting, model ship building, gardening) Letting go and letting your imagination run wild